How to learn a new computer program … not!


One of the great ironies in my life is that almost every job, creative endeavor, and solid friendship I ever made has eventually revolved around some level of skilled use of computers, and yet I flunked every computer course I ever took in a formal school environment. This should come as no surprise since I am a man defined by contradictions. Frequently, when I am in mode to go and change my life again, it somehow starts with random computer related projects. The most recent is learning a bit more about the state-of-the-art in website design. So I am trying to learn a new open source content management system (Drupal 7) … for the geeks among you.

Now I am no expert in computerese. I am not Full Geek. More like Geek-in-Training. I have just enough knowledge to break things and maybe duck tape em back together if I am lucky, though usually I need to go to the experts for that. So the general pattern for me starting a new project involving computers is as follows:

  1. I encounter a new thang and say "COOL! This could be fun/useful!"
  2. I find an open source (often "free" to the pure Non-Geeks) version, or figure out how to get a "free" version of other software.
  3. I download said version. Install it. Start playing with it immediately.
  4. It seems to work at first.
  5. I get excited, and try to do something a little more complicated.
  6. I break it.
  7. I find that though it is Mac OS X Lion compatible, it isn’t really, and that the issue I have is a common one that many people encounter but because it is both open source and Mac oriented (or because I don’t actually own it), I have very little access to any kind of official documentation. Everyone knows what is wrong but nobody can easily say how to fix it.
  8. I spend a full day or two searching for the answer, ripping out my hair every time a supposed solution makes things worse or doesn’t work (well I would if I had any hair).
  9. I finally figure out how to fix the problem, which actually took all of five minutes to fix once I knew what to do and almost invariably was the result of something as simple as a forgotten comma.
  10. I play with my new toy for a while until I get distracted by the next "shiny object".

This was essentially my day yesterday. Though I might stop with step nine this time and actually create something with this. We shall see!